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Bricks have been the building material of choice for centuries. Today, with the introduction of new laws relating to better insulation for electricity saving and a move towards greener, more environmentally conscious choices, builders and architects are looking for innovative construction methods. Not only are many of the alternative building methods better for our planet, they’re also substantially cheaper than brick and mortar construction, but buildings can be erected far quicker.

Traditional brick building

The history of traditional brick building is an ancient one. Along with wood, bricks are probably one of the oldest building materials, dating back 6 000 years. The very first bricks were made from thick mud and sun dried. The Egyptians made bricks using Nile mud and mixed them with straw and sand for extra strength. The Romans introduced the idea of firing bricks in a kiln. Brick making quickly spread through Europe and continued to develop. Both the Chinese and Aztec civilisations had their own brick making methods.

Although bricks are made from natural materials that are abundant on our planet, older brick yards still use coal fired or wood burning kilns to bake bricks, both of which have a negative impact on our environment. Modern brick making processes are more streamlined and use less energy and water, but many still feel that our building future lies in finding alternative building methods.

Alternative building solutions

While more sustainable methods of building are at the forefront of new building technology, lower cost and less construction time are two important reasons why people are looking for alternative building materials. While the idea of a cordwood, bamboo house or an earth ship (a home built from used car tyres) may not appeal to you, homes built using a light steel frame structure or an interlocking block system look outwardly the same as those built with bricks and mortar. Let’s take a look at some of the alternative building methods now available in South Africa.

Sandbag building

The Eco-Beam Sandbag Building System was developed as a solution to low-cost housing. There are three main elements to the sandbag building process. First a framework of timber and metal beams is erected, then geo-fabric sandbags are filled with sand and stacked between the beams. Beams are clad with wire mesh and either plaster, timber or plasterboard. Once complete, the home is waterproof, fire resistant and sound proof. Homes are cool in summer and warm in winter.

Sandbag building provides a cost-effective and environmentally-friendly building solution. Building materials are also lighter and therefore cheaper to transport to the site. Construction uses minimal amounts of water and cement and no electricity is needed at the building site.

Timber frame homes

Timber homes are an attractive option for home buyers. While not always cheaper than conventional building, wood is a natural insulator and can help reduce high electricity costs. The timber frame is constructed after the suspended floor is complete. This is followed by the installation of the roof trusses. The roofing material and waterproofing is installed before external wall cladding and waterproofing is completed. After electrical and plumbing first fixes are complete, the house is ready for internal cavity batt insulation and internal cladding. Doors and windows will be installed before final finishes such as ceiling installation, skirtings and cornices. Kitchen and bathroom fixtures and final plumbing and electrical fixes are last to be completed. The homeowner has different options for internal and external cladding. Timber construction has a low impact on the surrounding environment and construction time is reduced. Homeowners considering this type of construction should look for companies that are environmentally conscious and use timber products from sustainable forests.

Interlocking blocks

Interlocking blocks replace conventional bricks. They can be made using a concrete mix poured into plastic moulds and left to dry, or manufactured on site using a soil and cement mix passed through a block-making machine. The blocks are usually dry stacked and, depending on the product used, require little or no mortar during construction. Blocks can be stacked using semi- or unskilled labour and this helps to reduce building costs. Houses built using this method are durable and resistant to insects and fire. Depending on the interlocking block system used, site waste, energy and water usage are reduced. Homes can be built in far less time than brick and mortar structures.

Light steel frame construction

Internationally, light steel frame (LSF) construction is not a new concept, but it has only recently taken off in South Africa, especially for residential homes. Wall frames and roof trusses are manufactured from cold-form light gauge galvanised steel and erected on a concrete foundation or a concrete slab. Cavities are filled with insulating cavity batting. Conduits for plumbing and electrical are installed inside the wall cavity. Various interior and exterior cladding systems may be used and fixed to the frame, including a single-skin brick wall or fibre cement board.

One of the main advantages of light steel frame construction is the reduced construction time. LSF buildings are energy efficient and resistant to termites and other boring insects. Galvanised steel also resists rust and corrosion. Walls are square, so finishings within the home (such as cupboard installation and tiling) are likely to be faster and more cost-effective. Site waste is also greatly reduced.

SIPS kit homes

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) provide a modern, cost-effective building solution for residential homes. SIPS have been used successfully for over 40 years. Panels consist of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two facings. The core may be expanded or extruded polystyrene or polyurethane foam (PUR), while facings are 12mm oriented strand board (OSB) or magnesium-oxide sheets. Panels can be used for roofs, floors and exterior and interior walls.

A SIPS building is erected on a foundation designed and certified by a structural engineer. After the foundations are complete, the kit will be developed and a professional team will erect your home. The kit includes SIPS wall panels, a complete roof structure, ceiling, insulation, pre-glazed aluminium windows, doors and first fix electrical conduits that are cast into the panels. Panels are heavily insulated and this eliminates the need for additional insulation. Additional electrical fitting and wiring must be completed by an electrician and plumbing completed by a registered plumber. SIPS building systems are durable, strong and cost-effective as construction time is reduced, saving the homeowner money on labour costs. Panels are also treated to provide protection against termites and SIPS panels are protected against fire by the use of thermal barriers like plasterboard. SIPS buildings are energy efficient and environmentally friendly.

Using drywall

Drywall can be used to construct walls or install ceilings in homes. Drywall has a foam gypsum core that is sandwiched between paper liners. Gypsum is a coloured, grey or white sulphate mineral that is found close to the earth’s surface. It is mined underground or in quarries throughout the world. Drywall is easy to work with. Even those with average DIY skills should be able to hang drywall. You need to be able to measure accurately and know how to use an electrical drill and spirit level. Once the steel framing is in place and the drywall installed, joints should be sealed with tape and drywall filler. Using drywall for alterations within your home is far less messy, more cost effective and saves time. You don’t need municipal approved plans to make an alteration using drywall in the interior of your home.

Source: SA Homes

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